Joao Almeida, Grand Tour debutant and long-time Pink Jersey, faced the fight of his young life. On the steep ramps of the Piancavello the Italian, Nibali, had been dropped. Fuglsang, Bilbao, McNulty, and anyone else with a dog in the fight was long gone.
And with seven kilometres to go the elastic snapped between our pristine Portuguese hero and a group of three at the head of the race: Wilko Kelderman, second place on GC and threatening to rip Pink from Almeida’s back, along with his teammate Jai Hindley and Ineos Grenadier and London lad Tao Geoghegan-Hart.
Rob Hatch, on Eurosport, did that semi-growl he does to denote: “hey, viewer, something big’s happening…LOOK!”
We looked. And we feared for Joao. The best-case mental maths we could manage had him losing Pink to Kelderman. We wondered what he was made of.
Gasping and gaping in the late autumn sun he fought a ragged fight. Tongue lolling, all pretence of serenity gone, head tipped slightly back and twisting every ounce from every muscle, the boy was in pain.Embed from Getty Images
Gapped by twenty, then thirty, he held it. Three against one and he’s cracked, yes, but he wasn’t cracking. Like a little Dutch lad with a thumb in a dyke he held back time to a mere trickle. He could, at any moment, lose minutes, but there were the leaders, always on the horizon, always in view. Radio long since ripped from his ear, the team car now silent, this was an internal battle.
Keep them in sight, wring every last drop, and what will be will be.
Meanwhile, up the road, Tao Geoghegan-Hart was the boss. Sprightly, up on the pedals, catholic cross in full swing, this felt like a coming of age. The twenty-five year, previously hovering around the top ten, launched himself with a hail Mary and a “cheers Wilko…I’ll be having the stage mate!”
The moment he swung left on the finishing straight the win was his.
Glorious!Embed from Getty Images
Thirty-seven seconds later Almeida clawed his way to the finish, clinging to Pink by fifteen seconds. A HUGE ride. Kelderman clearly now his biggest challenger on GC. Just to underline the enormous job done by his Sunweb Team, Jai Hindley sits third overall. Geoghegan-Hart is fourth.
All of which epic drama had seemed a world away eighty-odd kilometres previously, as the peloton had ridden whimsically past a Pink ballooned piano furiously banging out some mid-stage tunes. The fifteen-year-old boy in me chuckling away at the idea of someone playing the pink piano in public. As euphemisms go, almost certainly illegal.
I’d wager that everyone is very happy now with the idea of a rest-day tomorrow.
The cynic in me wonders if Nibali’s capitulation now paves the way for the Italian race-organisers to bow to Covid-pressure and halt the race early. The realist in me thinks that with only six stage to go it’s Milan or bust. The romantic in me is too busy revelling in a fantastic bike race to get bogged down in all of that.